Professionally Speaking

Type Casting

How useful are personality assessment tests—really? Steve shares his thoughts.


Personalities, huh? When I first heard the topic for this column, I thought, “Oh, good! We’re going to get to talk about some industry personalities—you know, celebrities like Bill and Larry and Mark Minasi.” Nope, sorry. No dirt to dish. Instead, Greg has led us into the murky world of personality types. And when we get into personality types, we’ve walked right through the mirror into the world of psychology. I really don’t want to go there, but as long as I’m at the keyboard…

If you’re dying to know your personality type, there are a number of places to go. I’m not aware of anyone who does the full Myers-Briggs assessment free for individuals, but you might want to check with your local college guidance or career office—this may be a service offered to students or alumni. There are Web sites that provide the MBTI for a fee. One I’ve found is www.personality now.com. It sends you a kit with the written questionnaire, which you fill out and mail back. As of this writing, it costs $89 for individuals.

There’s a similar type of assessment called the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, available at www.advisorteam.com. It’s available for free at the Web site, although it’ll push you to purchase the full, 10-page Temperament Report. I’ve known large organizations that have used this evaluation instead of the MBTI, so I don’t think there’s a quality question here. (If you’re interested in evaluating your learning style, you can go to www.oswego.edu/~shindler/plsi/index.html— which is the Paragon Learning Styles Index, a free assessment.)

OK, once you know that you’re an introvert/artisan who intuitively judges or some other such combination of traits, what next? Well, one way of using the information is to find out what fields successful individuals with personality types like yours are in. I’m not saying that you should direct your life according to the test results. After all, these tests are trying to fit billions of people into just a few categories. But, because personality plays a major role in people’s success, you might want to investigate where other “left-handed, anti-progressive, highly opinionated artisan-extroverts” have found a home. I think most of the testing organizations have this sort of personality/occupation match up; if not, again, a local guidance or counseling office may be able to help.

One of the dangers of such testing and, in my opinion, a danger with psychology majors is that if you know someone else’s personality type, there’s the possibility that that person could be manipulated. (Hint: Ask a salesperson that you’re dealing with what his or her major was in college. If the answer is “psychology,” leave your wallet at home and don’t sign anything!) One of the paid testing sites I saw offers a discount for “romantic couples.” You know, I thought one of the joys of a relationship was discovering each other’s personalities, not getting tested for it. Whether valid or not, this type of information is a fuse for abuse.

I was surprised to hear from Greg that some organizations use these personality tests for candidate screening. The last time I went through “hiring manager” training, I was taught that testing could only be used to screen applicants if it tested performance directly related to the specific job. I haven’t done the research to know whether “personality-type” testing has been challenged in court, but if it hasn’t, I’m sure it soon will be. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, so I’m not trying to drum up business, but I would be interested to hear from any readers who had to undergo MBTI or similar testing before hiring. I really would like to understand the company’s rationale.

All of us carry too many labels these days. Are you a “techie?” Are you a “yuppie?” Are you a “Rosicrucian”? Our personalities are about the most defining aspects of us as individuals. Although self-discovery and a deeper understanding of your own uniqueness can be valuable exercises, I caution you against letting yourself be filed into a box, whether it’s a career box or a personality box. It’s your life—do what you want with it.

About the Author

Steve Crandall, MCSE, is a principal of ChangeOverTime, a technology consulting firm in Cleveland, Ohio, that specializes in small business and non-profit organizations. He's also assistant professor of Information Technology at Myers College and a contributing writer for Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine.

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Reader Comments:

Wed, Aug 20, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Good

Mon, Jul 15, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

The PLSI link needs to be fixed to include the l in html

Fri, Jun 14, 2002 ossy uk

I was looking forward to reading this, however as said it dident answer the questions. No new info

Fri, Jun 14, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Duh!

Thu, Jun 13, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Tell me something useful I can take away from this and use. This was just psychology101, ho hum....

Wed, Jun 12, 2002 Jerry Huntsville

...and the trend continues. Companies want to increase profits so they take money from same place as always--employees. Get someone that will work cheaper; never mind the fact the new hire is inexperieced and/or incompetent. This happens in HR same as everywhere else. To make up for incompetence in employees use technology as a crutch instead of a tool.
These tests are absolutely useless. First, nobody is going to answer honestly, just the way they think will get them a job. The sharper of the candidates will recognize the patterns of questions and manipulate the test in an attempt to give the desired results. I have had these personality tests show I have three totally different personalities, depending on how I answered the questions. (I have also passed polygraph tests while lying through my teeth, another useless test). Whatever happened to plain old-fashioned interviewing skills? The trend of attempting to use technology to overcome incompetence continues.

Wed, Jun 12, 2002 Jim Casey NY

Thats all ? I was expecting to rean an article - not two paragraphs of whitewash. I can see it only took about 15 to 20 mintes to write this one... If you want to make the article better, do some RESEARCH first. How about comparing tests with each other, getting opinions on the subject from HR managers and employees ? How about tell us what products are currently in use. Are there any statistics that prove or disprove the effectiveness of these tests ? Is there in increase or decline in the popularity of these test, if so how much ? .. Back in the day when I was a kid we were taught to as WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, and WHY.

Tue, Jun 11, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Type casting is not good. Anyone can take the results & twist them into something they can't work with. If companies are asking for these things from you, they should also offer for you to see the results of the tests of the employees that you would be forced to work with.

Tue, Jun 11, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

...and this article helps me how?

Tue, Jun 11, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Let's not forget that the results of these tests can be abused, especially for those falling on the "Sensitive" side. I've been in more than one group session on this where the Inuitive and Dominating (another test) people began parading around like they were superior than everyone else (once they found out the results.) It should be stressed that this tool needs to be used as a way to gauge how to better interact with coworkers, not for discrimination.

Tue, Jun 11, 2002 Anonymous Miami

Actually Personality testing is not new. My father. while a applying for job at a fortune 500 company in the 60's had to fly to Washington to see a psychologist and take a battery of tests (that asked very personal questions. He says now that type of testing is forbidden by the EEOC and hence the rise of these more general types). Depending on the type of test an employer may not be able to legally compel you to take the test as a condition of employment. Afterwards for "Traing purposes" is another story.

Tue, Jun 11, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

You never answered the question... ARE YOU CRAZY? (for taking
personality assessment for a potential job). Well are you???
and what about the other question... what are the consequences???

Tue, Jun 11, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

For those people really interested, there is a web site called www.assessment.com. It is well worth the effort because even the free report you can get goes way beyond MBTI.
The questions take time, but they are also fun to think about and answer as well. I do not work for the site. I just used it once and actually found it worth the effort.

Mon, Jun 10, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Now, if we could only get the touchy-feely personnel administrators to understand this as well, we would be on the road to recovery. And, making a politically uncorrect statement here, there was little to none of this hog wash until the "we have to get in touch with our feminine side" group got involved in personnel administration. What a mistake!

Mon, Jun 10, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Ho Hum everyone already knows this basic stuff...how about some insight into what employers prefer? Also, how do you propose to say no to a request for a personality test by a potential employer as you so glibly suggest?

Mon, Jun 10, 2002 Web Humpidge Atlanta

Good, though brief, overview of the MBTI and its ilk. Appreciate most the comments about the efficacy of MBTI, in most organizations, as a team-building and leadership augmentation rather than a screening tool. Have built dozens of productive teams over the past two decades using the MBTI in domains as diverse as academia, systems engineering, PBS Boards, and aardvark hunting. Always amazes me how much communication improves and how the synergies of working together improve when people are apprised of the facets of differing personality types and, more importantly, are encouraged to pursue parts of the teams efforts that are most conducive to their primary preferences. Likewise, because of this increase in efficiency, it is good to populate teams with as many relevant or diverse types as possible.

Mon, Jun 10, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

So why is it that I would be crazy to take a personality test?

Mon, Jun 10, 2002 Bob Muir Lakewood, WA

I agree, but it doesn't help the job seeker. It's not like you can turn down the test and still be considered for the job.

Mon, Jun 10, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

And your point is?

Tue, Jun 4, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

about as useful as the MBTI--told me what I already knew

Wed, May 15, 2002 Jamie Johnson Phoenix

Great article.

Wed, May 15, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

OK.

Tue, May 14, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

No new information

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